Thursday, March 29, 2012

tax office

No one looks forward to going to the tax office, especially in Greece. Especially now in Greece. Every year I file taxes electronically, thus avoiding the tax office entirely – no need to stand in line all day to submit forms, waiting for sullen employees to bang their rubber stamps on your documents… So for years submitting electronically seemed too good to be true. All you needed was a “code” or password to file electronically. Up until now, every year this code would be sent to you via email. Simple. Well, it was too good to be true. Now, according to new rules, in order to file electronically you have to appear at your local tax office in person, wait in line, show your ID and the employee will hand you a printout with your coveted code, necessary for your online submission.

So, one day I headed to the tax office to face the crowds, the long lines, the apathetic employees. I trudged up to the third floor because the only elevator was taking too long and was too small anyway, only accommodating about four people at a time. Upon locating and entering the right office, a look of bewilderment came over my face. On the left there was a long counter with a glass wall above, separating the waiting area from the office area. Behind the glass there were four desks and two employees. There was a door next to the counter and a long line in front of the door. It snaked along the length of the counter, making its way back around and down again, and the “end” of the line was basically a crowd of people, vying for a spot at the end of the “real” line. I reluctantly joined the back of the crowd, pushing my way through the line trying to find the end. “Who’s the last person?” newcomers would grumble and someone would sigh, “I am. And he’s before me, and she’s before him” and so on. There was a small table in the corner with no chairs, only a few cracked pens hanging from string which was taped to the table. Near the entrance to the room was a small row of airport-like seating. But most of the plastic seats were broken and instead of a seat there were round poles sticking out of the metal base.

A heavy-set woman sat on one of the few available chairs, arms crossed over her large stomach, surveying the scene. The office closes at 2pm every day and it was already 12:30. I doubted that I would make it to the front of the line in time. A wiry old man with long straggly white hair stepped out of line and looked through the glass partition, glancing at his watch and scowling at the people being served by the two employees inside the office. “That guy’s been in there for 15 minutes already! What’s he doing??!” I could hear everyone making mental calculations, counting the people in front of them, trying to figure out how long it would be before their turn came. The wiry old man became agitated, inhaling and exhaling loudly, flapping his arms, glaring, pacing, as his stringy white hair blew in the wind generated by his arm-flapping fury. “Hey you in there! You’re time is up!! Get out! There are others here too and we need our turn! I’ve been waiting for an hour already!!” he said, knocking on the glass. This got no response. He banged his fists on the counter and shouted “Hey in there! I’m gonna smash this place to pieces!!” Still no response. He stuck his head in the doorway and this time, aimed his comments directly at the employee, “Madame!!! This cannot go on, it’s not fair for this person to monopolize all of your time on his case when we are all waiting outside like idiots!!” The woman glanced up, shot him a deadly look and stated in a strong, stern voice “I will spend as much time as it takes to finish each person’s paperwork!”

The heavy-set woman piped up and added “Humph! In France all you do is punch your ID number into a machine, press a button and out comes any document you want. Yeees, that’s right. No standin’ in line! No, sir! In France, they ain’t waitin’ around for hours like us!”

A short middle-aged man wearing a baseball cap looked up and smirked. “Yeah, but half the people in France are gay,” he retorted -  which got a roaring laugh from the crowd of haggard tax-payers.

“Go ahead and laugh” she snapped, “but we’re still stuck here waitin’ like morons” as she pulled a sandwich from her huge black bag, unwrapped it and started chomping on one end. Her son, who was waiting in line, figured it’s no use, he’ll never make it by 2pm and wanted to leave. “I ain’t leavin’ son. You hand me those papers and I’ll wait here. I'm gittin’ served today, no matter what. And that’s that. Yes, sir. Gittin’ served today.”

At 1:55 I finally got to the front of the line and eventually got what I came for. I was too tired to notice what happened with the wiry old man or if the side-lining heckler eventually did get served. All I kept thinking was that there certainly is an easier way to do all this, and I left feeling saddened by the fact that in the Greece of 2012 standing in line for hours on end for a simple transaction is still a part of “normal” life.


Anonymous said...

This is Greece, we are doomed.

John Ridgway said...

Still in the dark ages...!

Anonymous said...

WAs the fat lady speaking in English? I don't get the "accent".. Sounds more like a black from the south [USA] to me..